What makes a good mentor?

Martha Shenton, PhD
Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry
Professor of Radiology
2008 William Silen Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award

 

 

 

 

What makes a good mentor?

  • Putting the needs and goals of the mentee above our own needs and goals. Here, one has to have the needs of the mentee front and center, on the radar so to speak.
  • Assisting the mentee in reaching their goals and providing advice on how best to meet them based on our experience and their aspirations, not ours.
  • As a mentor one must be available to meet regularly with mentees. Some mentees need more time than others and the mentor needs to adjust to the needs of each mentee. If there are mentees that seem to need no contact, regular appointments should nonetheless be set up.
  • Listen to what the mentee is saying. Sometimes they are not as direct in areas where they are concerned that they will not be approved. For example, if a mentee is not happy with their project or is looking to change from basic science research to human research the mentor's role is to help them talk about their feelings and to help them sort out the best course of action to take even if that means transitioning to another area of research and finding a new mentor.
  • Good communication is key and avoids possible pitfalls. If a mentee feels they can talk about applying for jobs that would take them away from the lab they are in with you, that is good. We need to help them achieve their goals. Also good communication is key to avoiding later misunderstandings. For example, if a post-doctoral fellow is paid from a grant and you have agreed upon 60% effort on a grant with possibilities for carrying out a project and being first or a major author, and 40% time is left for the post-doc to develop their own areas of interest that are in close proximity to mission of lab, then this avoids issues later. Sometimes such a 60/40 split is not possible but stating from the outset what the expectations are avoids a lot of problems that can come up later.
  • Never mention or compare one mentee to another as this creates competitiveness and detracts from a cooperative work environment – discuss with each mentee their interests, etc. and do not discuss other mentees.

 

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